Chapter 1 - Early Years
Vladimir Kosma Zworykin was born in Murom, Russia, on July 30, 1889. Murom, one of the oldest cities in Russia, is located on a bend of the Oka River, a tributary of the Volga—about 175 miles west of Moscow (Fig. I-1).
At the time of Zworykin’s birth, the city had a population of about 20,000. Zworykin remembers being taught that Murom began its existence as a tribal site sometime before the tenth century. Its marvelous location on the Oka River, he is convinced, was its attraction as a settlement site since in those centuries rivers were the only practical means of transportation and the land was so vast. As Murom gradually became a prosperous commercial center, it also attracted raids from its less fortunate neighbors, so it soon developed into a central fortified outpost of the forming Russian principalities. During the Mongolian invasion, it was repeatedly besieged and burned by the Tartars. Its strategic value decreased, however, as Moscow gained in importance as a principality, and by the eighteenth century, it became just another small, but prosperous, provincial city.
Vladimir was the youngest of twelve children, only seven of whom survived—a brother and five sisters—Nadezhda, Nicolai, Anna, Antonina, Vera, and Maria (Fig. I-2). Of his family he wrote:
I did not know my oldest sister Nadezhda very well. She was fourteen years older than I and, when I was seven, married and moved away from Murom. In that same year, 1896, my brother, (p.1) Nicolai, who was next in line, finished high school and left home to become a student at the Institute of Technology in St. Petersburg. I began to know him well only much later. The next sister, Anna, eventually also departed, first to college and later to school abroad; I seldom saw her until she married and settled in St. Petersburg. Antonina, the next sister, I remember was always dreaming of how she could serve humanity. She eventually went to medical school and became a doctor. Vera, who did not go to college, married and settled in Murom; she died there during the revolution. The last, my friend and playmate and best to me, was Maria, one year my senior. She studied in the girls’ gymnasium at the same time I was in real school. We spent part of our college years together.
My father, Kosma, came from a large and wealthy mercantile family. He received a commercial education, and within the context of the time and place he lived, was a man of progressive ideas. He was active in the civic life of Murom, was a member of both the library committee and the city council, and was for one term—the mayor. Although he inherited a wholesale grain business from his family, he later acquired a steamship line on the Oka River and also became a director of the local bank. Although to his children, he was a good father, his preoccupation with his various businesses left him with little time for his children and the only times we saw him was either at mealtime or in church, which he demanded the whole family attend regularly. His authority in family affairs was absolute, but, according to the prevailing tradition, the house was run by my mother. She deferred to him only when a crisis occurred concerning us.
My mother, Elena, married very young. She was a distant cousin of my father and had the same family name. With seven surviving children and a large house with many servants, mother had much to do. The younger children grew up mostly under the supervision of older sisters and various maids. I was cared for by an old nurse, Lubove Ivanovna, who became for me a sort of substitute mother. She had been in my family for over forty years and was my protector from everyone, including my Mother, from whom she always tried to hide my misbehavior. I remember she worried about me long past my school years.
Of all my relatives, I remember best my Aunt Maria Solin, the older sister of my Father. She was married to a very wealthy man who owned a large fleet of Volga River boats, which transported and distributed oil from Baku to the interior of the country. They lived in Astrakhan, where the Volga enters the Caspian Sea, in a very (p. 2) palatial home. When her husband died, she became the head of a big enterprise and because of her wealth tried to domineer everybody with whom she came in contact. She was well known all over the Volga. One of her boats was named "Maria Solina" and it was said that the rest of the boats in her fleet had to salute this boat with whistles when passing it on the river. She frequently came to visit us in Murom and we children were afraid of her because, being childless, she repeatedly tried to persuade her brothers to let her adopt one of us, which we dreaded. Finally, she adopted an orphan girl and completely subjugated her.
One of my uncles, Alexei, father of Ivan, my friend and hunting companion, had a grand passion for racing horses. He trained and raced them personally on the Moscow Hippodrome until he was well into his seventies. His preoccupation with horses was a joke to his relatives, who claimed that the stables he built for them were more luxurious than his own house. He used to treat their hooves with the best imported French brandy.*
Another, the youngest of my uncles, Ivan, who died a year before I was born, was a professor of physics in Moscow University. I once found in the mezzanine of our house a large box filled with reprints of his scientific papers, including one dated 1887 on the prediction of coming thunderstorms by detecting electric discharges with [a] coherer. I never knew how he died until fifty years later.**
In the original manuscript of his autobiography, Zworykin said very little more concerning his family, leading me to wonder, when I initially read it, at the depth of their familial relationship. However, these questions were soon dispelled after I had seen him with members of his own family, and having once observed his face and genuine concern when a friend had just returned with bad news concerning the health of one of his surviving sisters who was still living in Russia. Perhaps, as a friend of mine once observed, the pragmatism of a scientist does truly extend into the whole of his experience. So perhaps with Zworykin that once he was removed from the emotional implication of an occurrence, event, or even a human being, the relating for him became nothing more than just another fact to pick and choose from the past. (p. 3)
Later in the manuscript, he spoke briefly of his surroundings.
When I was born, Murom was considered quite a progressive city, since it had a number of primary schools, a real school, an eight years’ gymnasium for girls, and a seminary (there were also 23 churches and 3 monasteries). It had several textile mills, a railroad repair works, a machine factory, and various small industries. There was also a fairly large library operated by an elected citizens committee. Because the library was near our home, I visited it often and have remained forever grateful to the librarian who advised and selected my early reading. The love for books remained with me for the rest of my life.
The house where I was born belonged to our family for several generations. It was a big, stone, three-story structure much too large even for our big family. We actually occupied only the second floor; the rest of the house was empty and we, the children, had plenty of room to play and hide in it. A mezzanine above the third floor was never finished inside, and as I was growing up I made all sorts of discoveries among the old discarded furniture and boxes stored there (Fig. I-3).
Our house was located on a large public square, facing two churches. Every Saturday on the square there was a bazaar where peasants brought and sold their products, and the view of it from our windows was a source of entertainment and never forgotten delight of my earlier years. I still have a picture of Saturday Bazaar day by the artist Koulikov; the view was painted from a window of our house. The other side of our house faced the Oka River, and since it was built high above the river, we had a magnificent view of the river, the woods, and the villages on the opposite side of it. I remember watching the river traffic through binoculars. The view was particularly wonderful in Spring when the Oka was usually flooded; I remember it looked like a large lake more than ten miles wide (Fig. I-4).
My personal impression of Zworykin’s early childhood from what he had written and told me was that it was happy, conventional, generally uneventful, and always secure in the prerogatives inherent in being a member of Russia’s pre-revolutionary aristocracy. The life he speaks of in the following paragraphs emerges as an almost ideal existence of weddings, festivals, etc. Curiosity, the sense of adventure, being greatly impressed (p. 4) by the spectacular, the desire not to be constrained (a recurring theme), and lastly the hunt, all are greatly in evidence in his early memories.
I have tried to remember my earliest impressions but have found it very difficult to date them, except for exceptional cases. My most vivid impression is the fireworks connected with the coronation of Tsar Nicholas II in 1896. Many other impressions, undoubtedly accrued much earlier, are hard to identify chronologically. Another event in 1896, which I remember very well, was the marriage of my eldest sister, Nadejda. I probably remember this event so well, not only because of the many people who came to stay in our house, or even because of the wedding ceremonies and festivities, but particularly because my future brother-in-law brought us whole cases of candies instead of the customary boxes or packages.
Another recollection of the same period concerns my first escape from home. Our house was surrounded with several buildings that housed horses, cows, carriages, firewood, ice, etc. (Fig. I-5). The buildings formed a large yard whose gates were always closed. I had never before been outside of them alone. During the marriage celebration, which lasted almost a week, the gates were always open to admit the continuing stream of guests. One day I wandered out one of the gates; I suddenly felt like a bird let out of a cage. I can even identify on the painting I mentioned before, the very store where I was intercepted by tradesmen, who pulled me into it and began to treat me with nuts, asking all kinds of questions. I can remember how very proud I was of being so independent and so nicely treated, when all of a sudden my nurse burst into the store with a horrified expression on her face, as if she was rescuing me from a fire or drowning, instead of such a glorious adventure.
There was a huge fire one night, not far from our house. I clearly remember how bright everything was illuminated, the silhouettes of men with pails of water walking on the iron roof of the stable and the insistent ring of the bell in the neighboring church beating the fire alarm. I heard my nurse repeatedly asking my Mother for the keys to the storage room so she could get a special icon of Our Lady and carry it around the house for protection from the flames.
Between the house and the river, we had a big fruit and vegetable garden. Part of the garden was on high ground surrounded on three sides by a deep ravine, overgrown with all kinds of trees (p. 5) and bushes. This was our favorite place to play and hide. In summer the garden furnished an inexhaustible supply of vegetables, fruits, and berries which we devoured in great quantities to the dismay of our parents since we occasionally lost our appetites or much worse. In winter, we could not play in the garden, since it was always covered by deep snow. For several years I was intensely interested in catching songbirds in our garden which I kept in my room both in cages and free, until Mother finally exiled them because of the disorder they produced.
I developed, very early, a love of walking through the woods with my classmate, Vasili, and my cousin Ivan. We spent a great deal of time on weekends and during vacations in the woods that were abundant around Murom. This love of wandering gradually led to a love of hunting which remains with me still. Actually hunting was an excuse for spending time outdoors, but in order to justify this, it was necessary to bring back the results and therefore we often spent hours lying in the water waiting for ducks, or crawling through the brush to shoot grouse, rabbit, or some other game. It is surprising that although at home I often was subject to colds, I never was ill as a result of exposure during hunting. Once I fell through the ice trying to retrieve a duck I shot on a freshly frozen lake. Vasili, who was with me, was unable to reach me and fell in himself. However, he succeeded in crawling to the shore and ran to the next village to find help. Eventually I was pulled out, but not before I had spent almost an hour in the icy water. My rescuers brought me to their village and I had to buy a lot of vodka from which the rescuers were all sick next morning while I did not even catch a cold. At home I often had colds and other respiratory difficulties, which doctors diagnosed as asthma. My parents took me to various specialists and my nurse took me to a monastery, incessantly praying over me, but all without avail until I moved to St. Petersburg where the asthma miraculously disappeared. Later it was identified as an allergy to cats and dogs, but I still have dogs and no asthma.
In winter we hunted rabbits and foxes and occasionally even wolves, which I found the most exciting. For wolves we usually went out hunting on the night of a full moon in sleds driven by two horses. Inside the sled we would have a suckling pig and trailing behind, on a long rope, we would tie a bag of hay. By tickling the pig we made him squeal and the wolves, attracted by this and thinking that the squeal came from the bag, would come close to the sled thereby allowing us to fire at them. However, sometimes so many came that we were scared and more interested in running away than in hunting them. (p. 6)
There was also very exciting hunting in early Spring when the river was in flood stage. We had to cross it in a rowboat over flooded fields and woods, pick a dry spot, set a blind, and then watch the arrival of ducks, geese, and other migrating birds. One time I was surrounded by a family of moose with a big bull, several cows, and yearlings. I spent the whole morning without firing a shot at the thousands of ducks and geese that passed by, fearful that if I shot at them the bull would attack me.
I have altogether different and pleasant recollections of my vacation visits to the summer home of my aunt from Moscow, who spent the summer in her "dacha" near Murom. She was a widow with a son, Leonid, and two daughters one of which, Katia, was my age; I was very friendly with her and Leonid. Children were permitted to invite their friends on summer vacations so the house was always full of young people. Days passed there as one continuous holiday. We swam, boated, played croquet, rode horseback, and sometimes indulged in all kinds of practical jokes. Once we heard that two prisoners escaped from the Murom prison and were hiding in the vicinity. My cousin and his friend decided to impersonate them. They put on some old clothes and told me to run through the park and yell for help while they were pursuing me. This joke almost ended in disaster because one of the neighbors, an officer, started after the alleged prisoners with a gun and actually shot at them. Fortunately he missed; my poor aunt fainted and we had to send for the doctor. I was sent home to Murom for participating in it. Another time, to celebrate my aunt’s birthday, we made very elaborate homemade fireworks. However, one of them misfired and burned down a barn. Another exile followed.
Russian religious festivals were among the strongest of his early memories. Most certainly the color, pageantry, and drama of these ancient rites would exert a powerful influence on any sensitive child. Whatever their emotional influence, however, in his early adult years Zworykin grew away from any form of organized religion. He once jokingly traced the beginning of this intellectual departure to an event that occurred during a childhood illness when it was thought he might be near death. He was brought to a monastery by his nurse Lubove where monks performed rites of exorcism over him; he said they literally scared him back to life. (p. 7)
I have already mentioned the large number of churches in Murom. Our parish church was next to our home and the whole family usually attended mass both on Saturday evening and Sunday morning. My old nurse, who was very pious, went almost every day very early in the morning. We had a special place in the church next to Starosta (the church warden) and to the counter where the candles were sold. As soon as I grew up a little, Starosta started sending me with the candles purchased by worshippers to be placed in front of the designated icons, and still later I had the glorious job of lighting the candelabras. To do this I would climb the stepladder, held by the church attendant and once on top of it, higher than everybody in the church, light the candles.
The most memorable religious festival was the Easter Mass. Easter was considered in Russia as "The Holy day of all Holy days." It was celebrated on the first Sunday after the full moon, following the vernal equinox, and was preceded by seven weeks of Lent.
The Holy days started with Saturday evening midnight Mass in a darkened church with the priest in somber vestments, the choir singing mournful chants, and the worshippers holding lighted candles. Around midnight a procession would be formed, headed by the priest now in shining vestments, holding the cross and the three-branch candlestick with lighted candles. He would be followed by the bearers of icons, crosses, banners, and a great book of Gospels. This procession, followed by the worshippers, proceeded three times around the church. At the third round (which coincided with midnight) the priest sang the Easter Hymn: "Christ is risen from the dead" with the choir continuing: "Christ is risen from the dead, death by death He conquered, and gave life to those who passed away." The procession then reentered the church which at that moment would be brightly illuminated. The priest raised the Cross, blessing all the people and greeting them with words: "Christ is risen"; everyone replied, ‘‘Truly He is risen,’’ then the choir sang songs of joy. The Easter brotherly kiss (three times) as a ceremonious and joyful Easter ritual was universally familiar in Russia before the revolution. At this time I usually would be busy with fireworks outside the church, trying to make them as loud and sparkling as possible. Our whole family and servants would return home tired but happy and radiant, carrying lighted candles to be used in lighting the lamps before the icons at home. Here a festive midnight supper was waiting, greatly anticipated after seven weeks of Lent.
The table would be beautifully decorated with spring flowers—pink, blue, and white hyacinths. A tall, homemade delicious Easter cake (Koulich) dominated the table. There would also be a traditional Easter delicacy, "Paskha" in the form of a pyramid, decorated with a small flower on top. There were also multicolored hard-boiled eggs, roast of lamb, ham, and many other delicacies on the table. (p. 8)
Holy days lasted all the following weeks, with the churches open for service and bells pealing all through the day. For the first three days, there were reciprocal visits, with all the relatives and friends toasting each other with a glass of vodka or wine.
In February, just before Lent, Russians celebrated a week of Masljanitza (Mardi Gras). These were always very colorful and gay days. We ate griddle cakes (blinii with sour cream) accompanied with various salty dishes like caviar, herring, etc. For us children it was a sport to brag how much one ate that day, which was always too much. Afterwards, there was ice skating at the city rink, with a local orchestra playing waltzes. In the afternoon there would be a special parade through the main streets of town, in horse sleighs, with everybody displaying their best horses, equipments, and furs. Usually this parade would end with the racing of the teams, often spilling passengers into the soft snow.
Christmas I remember by the decorated evergreen trees, the distribution of gifts, the table heavy with delicious food surrounded with continuingly changing groups of clergy, relatives, and friends. For us youngsters it also was a time of ice skating, sledding, skiing, and often frozen ears and fingers.
To depart slightly from his early narrative and comment on what eventually became the main preoccupation of his scientific career, I questioned him many times about how he first became interested in television, trying to discover if there was anything in his youth that prefigured such an interest. His answer was always that he was "there at the right time." However, when I first read his autobiography, I was particularly taken in its early pages by a poetic description of his first view of telegraph lines and his excitement as to their implication. Asking him further about this description, I discovered he was rather sick for a rather long period during his childhood. Since he could not go outside, he made himself a childhood playroom on the mezzanine of his house where he used to watch from a window (through binoculars) the river traffic on one side of the house and the village life in the square (p. 9) on the other. Perhaps in some mysterious way his youthful compulsion to overcome his ailing physical limits (for he has a ferocious will) and the desire to extend his vision beyond these limits (one of the hallmarks of his character), strangely came together when he first encountered the phenomena of television as a young university student. I have somehow retained a mental image of this intense, intelligent little boy sitting on a sill of his "window to the world." (He had always said he wanted television to become a reality so one could for example see what was on the other side of the moon which is always hidden from the earth.} In characteristic fashion, when I told him of my intuitive image, he smiled, shook his head, and repeated it was nothing more than "being there at the right time." What follows is his description of the telephone installation.
One memorable occurrence of that period was the installation of telephones in Murom, by private subscription. The stringing of overhead telephone lines lasted probably the whole summer and since the trunk line passed across the plaza in front of our house, I had the opportunity to admire the work of the wire men from our window. As more and more lines appeared, I was struck as to how beautifully they glistened under the sun, like golden hairs of some mysterious monster. Since the number of subscribers was small, probably under a hundred, the telephone girls memorized all the users by their first names and nicknames and soon the telephone became the source of all the city news and gossip. Ladies spent hours discussing the most intimate information which, through the telephone operators, was spread immediately all over the city. Older people were a little suspicious of the telephones and I remember how often I saw Nicolai, an old servant of my grandfather, crossing the plaza from their house to ours, asking for my Mother in order to tell her that her father would telephone shortly, so "please be ready to answer." But the most exciting use of the telephone was in case of fires. The operator herself would report all the details, how large the fire was, what engines were used, how soon they responded to the alarm, who were among the spectators, etc. This was the best substitute for a local newspaper which Murom did not have at the time. (p. 10)
His father, betraying the same pragmatic good sense Zworykin was to exhibit all of his life, tried to involve his sons in all of his various businesses. Zworykin singled out three incidents allied with this involvement and wrote of them in great detail. They are illuminating. One impressed him because of an ingenuous way of solving a technical problem, and the other because of the unusual impression Zworykin retained by the bizarre death of one of his father’s employees. The "cigar" incident reveals a mischievous curiosity he still retains.
My brother had no enthusiasm for the family business, so my Father tried to interest me in his work when I was still a mere child. He took me with him in our boats and on other short business trips, which I enjoyed. He would often invite me to sit in his study and watch him receive visiting businessmen. Of course I did not understand what their conversations were about, but I loved to watch the proceedings. Almost invariably after the proper introduction, Father would offer his visitors a cigar. There were two boxes of them, one larger on top of the desk from which almost everybody was treated, and the other a smaller box in a locked drawer which I noticed was offered only to the more important guests. It amused me to watch the performance of the visitor after accepting a cigar. Usually he would look at the label, smell it and after lighting it, inhale the smoke, praising the quality. The important visitors on the other hand, although they went through the same motions, were more subdued. My curiosity as to the difference of the two brands was so intense that one day, finding the drawer with the small box unlocked, I intermixed the contents of the two boxes. With great apprehension, I expected something like an explosion when the change would be discovered. Nothing happened, nobody noticed the difference. So I decided to try both cigars myself. I got violently sick, the doctor was called, he guessed the reason, and my mischief was discovered. Of course I was punished, but probably as a result of this experiment, I never started to smoke. (p. 11)
My Father had a steamship passenger line between Murom and Nizhni and when I was still in junior classes, I met all the arriving and departing boats of his fleet at Murom’s river station. In summer I often made round trips, sometimes lasting for three or four days, to "represent the management." This of course subjected me to many temptations including drinking, but luckily I never acquired the habit. This was probably due to our old chief steward who kept an eagle eye on me.
As I grew older, Father started to give me assignments in connection with his business. I particularly remember two of them which required trips away from Murom.
One was a trip during the Christmas vacation of 189_. I was to visit a boat which had been frozen in due to the sudden winter, about thirty miles from Murom. Since in winter boats were repaired and repainted for next spring’s navigation, for this particular boat it was necessary to build temporary shops around where it was frozen in and quarter workers in a nearby village. I was supposed to observe the progress and report on it to my Father. I was sent with our old driver by sleigh and two horses, lots of warm clothes, and a good supply of provisions. We started early one morning hoping to reach the boat before nightfall. The road was good, mostly over the frozen river bed, and the ride was smooth and pleasant except for some places that were covered with fresh snow drifts. This slowed us up and when night came we were still quite far from our destination. Driving in a moonless winter night is difficult and often we had to depend entirely on the horses to find the road; for a while the driver feared we had lost our way. To pass the time, he started telling me stories about murders that happened in the neighborhood. He not only scared me but also himself, particularly when we heard another sleigh following us. The driver tried to speed our horses and then stop them, but the sleigh behind us did the same thing and probably for the same reasons. Finally he became panicky and. whipped our horses on to all the speed they were capable of until we suddenly found ourselves in the village we were looking for.
We spent the night with a peasant family who as usual were very hospitable. The next day when I went to the boat to see how the repair work was progressing, I discovered quite a unique method of repairing the bottom of the ship without a dry dock. To do this in the winter, mechanics made a tunnel in the ice under the ship. The winter cold is so severe that it is possible (p. 12) to carve several inches during the day, and at night the ice under the carved section will grow again to the same thickness as before. In this way, in several weeks, a tunnel was built under the damaged part of the bottom. In our case it was necessary to remove and replace a sheet of steel more than twenty feet square. When I saw the work it was well under way, and I was able to report on my return that this very risky operation was safely completed.
Another trip was to the city of Yaroslavl on the Volga River, where my Father had some property. I was to find out why we had no news from our supervisor who lived there. I went there by railroad and although a telegram was sent to him to meet me at the railroad station, nobody met me and I spent the night in a small hotel being tormented by bedbugs. Next morning I hired a driver with a two-horse sleigh to take me where the supervisor lived, about twenty miles from the city. Due to the poor road and snow we arrived there at night and found the house and yard completely snowbound. Since nobody answered our yells, we dug a path to the door and the driver forced the lock. When we entered the cold house and lit a kerosene lamp, we saw to our horror the supervisor lying in his bed—dead. We hurriedly retreated and with some difficulty found a village where we woke up the local policeman, who found a doctor, and again we went to the house. The doctor told us that the poor fellow had been dead for several days. I sent a telegram to my Father and got instructions to stay a few days until one of his employees arrived and replaced me. This trip I remembered with horror for a long time.
From his earliest years, Zworykin had a great interest in intellectual pursuits. In addition to his natural abilities, he was most fortunate to have encountered in his first year at school an exceptional teacher. His remembrance of this woman, Elizaveta Ivanovna, is very gentle and from the vantage point of three quarters of a century—most meaningful.
After my sister, Anna, who taught me to read, left for St. Petersburg to enter the University, I was sent to a private school in preparation for entrance to the Real School. This private school left me with one of my most tender memories as a child. First, I liked the school and was always greatly disappointed when I was (p. 13) prevented from attending it because of illness or bad weather. But most of all, I liked my teacher, Elizaveta Ivanovna. She was a very lovely woman who made all of us feel as if we were her own children. On the day when I was admitted to the first grade of Real School, my strongest feeling was that of losing her. To this wonderful human being I believe I owe my love for learning.
At that time there were two types of high schools in Russia, the Gymnasium and the Real School. The difference between them was that in the Gymnasium more attention was given to languages (Greek and Latin) and literature, while in the Real School more time was given to natural sciences and mathematics. Of course, I did not have any choice in selecting which school I would attend—that was decided by my Father. His choice was conditioned partly because in Murom we only had a Real School (which permitted me to continue to live with my parents) but also because it gave more suitable preparation for entering the engineering institute. I do not think at that time I personally had any real preference for becoming an engineer. The matter was settled long before I graduated from high school, mostly because there were several engineers in our family. Two of my Father’s brothers were professors in engineering and physics respectively, and my older brother and several cousins were at that time students in engineering colleges. However, the other branch of my family, including an uncle and three of my sisters, chose the medical profession.
The primary year in Real School began the first great change in my life. I became more independent, was less under the supervision of my nurse, and more under the influence of school environment and new classmates. I soon objected to being driven to school in our carriage and particularly to being picked up at the end of classes; I insisted on walking with the rest of the boys. The games we played were mostly with a ball, similar to simplified baseball and "gorodki," which consisted in building a set of figures with wood blocks inside of a circle and knocking them out of the circle by throwing a stick. In winter we skated on the rivers and ponds, and in summer the best sport was swimming. Because the Oka River was so wide and swift swimming in it was always dangerous, particularly when we grew up and tried to swim across, or dive under passing boats and barges. This was strictly forbidden by school authorities, but in spite, or because of this, we continued and every summer there were accidents, sometimes fatal ones. An activity particularly forbidden was to play on floating ice during the Spring thaw of the river; when we were caught doing this we were punished by spending Sundays in school. (p. 14)
One time my friend Vasili and I, misjudging the size of an ice float, fell into the water and were pulled out by other boys. It was very cold and to warm up, we ran into the city pumping stations. We were afraid to go home, not only of parents but chiefly of the school inspector, who would report us. So one of our rescuers ran to my house and told my nurse about the accident. She soon arrived at the pump house with two sets of dry clothes. On the way home we met the school inspector who asked where we were coming from and what was in the bundle the nurse was carrying. She told him that she had been to the river to freshen the linen in the river water and we boys were helping her. Later she scolded us, not for getting into the accident, but because of it, she was forced to commit a sin by lying to the inspector.
School was never a problem for me. Learning came easy, and I loved to be among my schoolmates. Of all my subjects, I preferred gymnastics, natural sciences, and in the higher grades, physics. In school we had a small collection of instruments that were used to demonstrate physical laws during classes. Because of my interest, I was put in charge of these instruments and often was called to assist the teacher during demonstrations to other classes.
Zworykin once compared the socio-political climate during the preparation of this book (1970) and the Russia of 1905 as being very similar. The descriptions in the next paragraphs, if dates and a few other things were changed, could be a recitation of many of today’s headlines.
My two last years in school coincided with the unsuccessful revolution of 1905 in Russia, which was the result both of a disastrous war with Japan and general dissatisfaction with the Czarist government. This of course had a big effect on the students. Many college students joined left-wing political parties and of course we in the upper grades of high school imitated them. We organized strikes, demanded freedom from supervision, the honor system, objected to some of the teachers, etc. Some participation in politics was quite dangerous as some of us belonged to supposedly terrorist organizations and were hiding weapons, delivering proclamations, etc. Our parents did not know about this activity, but even if they did know I doubt they would have been able to do much to prevent it. As an illustration, I remember how we hid a revolutionary, hunted by the police, in the mezzanine of our house. My older sister was involved in it, and I had to bring him food and notes—and all this in the house of the mayor of the town. Incidentally, this fellow became a member in Soviets after the 1917 revolution. (p. 15)
The summer of 1905 was one of continuous strikes and demonstrations all over Russia. Murom was typical in this respect, and I remember particularly one of the demonstrations. It started, as usual, by some groups of workers from neighboring factories assembled in the public square; they were immediately joined by school children. I was among them and saw how a peaceful march developed into a riot. It was a beautiful summer evening and there was great excitement among the workers because of some liberal manifest from the Tsar. We were marching and singing some of the current popular, revolutionary songs when finally, at dusk, we arrived at the park on the river, a favorite place for summer strolls. The park, which lay between two steep ravines, was protected by wooden fences. The crowd was in a holiday spirit.
Suddenly near the end of the park, without any warning, a detachment of police attacked. They started to fire over the heads of the marchers, creating a panic. Several men were wounded by gun shots, many were arrested, and one girl from the last grade of girls’ high school was cut across the face by a police sabre. Since both ends of the park were closed by police, the only way to escape was to climb over the fence and roll down the steep slope of the ravine; there were many broken limbs and bad bruises. But the most tragic case was the disfiguring of the most beautiful girl in Murom. Of course she became our heroine. My personal experience in this affair was a very funny one. I was sitting on the fence, curious to see what was going on and ready to jump down in case of danger. It was already dark and I heard somebody near me trying to get over the fence. I went to help and found out that it was a girl of my own age from the girls’ high school. We returned home together and for a while it was a very beautiful romance, since she imagined that I had saved her life or at least from the same fate of the wounded girl.
In spite of all this, the work in school was continued and in the spring I graduated with honors from the Real School.
Zworykin began to exhibit early an interest in mechanical devices. He describes in the next paragraphs how he gained the reputation of "an expert" in what he interestingly described as a "mysterious art." (p. 16)
I think I conformed to the common trend in young boys in that I liked complicated machinery. I remember trying to tinker with anything mechanical I could put my hands on. In Murom at this time the installation of electrical bells in houses was in high fashion, and since I was willing and eager to help in this "mysterious art" for our relatives and friends, I received the reputation of "an expert." The biggest achievement that I can remember was repairing the bell system on our passenger steamboat. The real expert who was supposed to do this job was unavailable and the boat had to be ready for the beginning of navigation. So I happily complied in the repair.
This reputation remained with me for quite a long time and was responsible for an episode that happened in Moscow after my graduation from Real School. I was traveling to St. Petersburg for the entrance examinations at the Institute of Technology. On the way, I stopped for a few days in Moscow to visit my aunt and my cousins. Since the family was quite wealthy, my cousin, Leonid, had just received a car as a present for graduating from college. At that time in Moscow, there were less than a hundred automobiles and I had never seen one before. I remember the machine was French made, a De Dion Bouton, with open chassis and the entrance from the rear. Of course, I fell in love with it at first sight. Although they had a chauffeur, my cousin was allowed to drive himself, and we spent most of our time either looking at the mechanism, cranking the car, or driving through the suburbs of Moscow. On the last day of my stay, on the pretext of my graduation from high school, the family decided to have a celebration. At that time, such a celebration had a very definite schedule—first dinner, then theatre, and a night club—quite often not one but several. Accordingly, very late at night, we found ourselves out in the suburbs and Leonid, who was the driver, being sufficiently under the influence of the celebration, was judged not to be trusted with the driving. Because of my unjustifiable reputation as an "expert," I was asked to bring the car and family safely home.
The beginning of the trip was perfectly safe. I successfully cranked the car and started back for Moscow, which was about an hour’s drive. Everything was going fine until we came to a park which had a main highway and two side alleys. As the main highway was occupied by heavily loaded carts, I was annoyed at either having to go on passing them or trailing behind. Besides I was not sure of my driving and decided to leave the highway and drive along the empty alley. This led to a near accident when turning over a culvert, I missed the corner and the rear wheel of the automobile sank in the gutter. All my efforts to extricate the car were in vain. The family was quite indignant and decided to proceed home by a horse taxi which luckily had just came along. They all departed leaving me with the car, which, of course, (p. 17) I would not leave at the peril of my life. Meantime the procession of carts continued and I heard a lot of derisive remarks about a machine that could not move. After much discussion and many jokes, several of the drivers agreed to unhitch their horses and pull me out with ropes.
Once back on the road, I succeeded in cranking the car and again proceeded along the streets of Moscow. It was already morning and horse carriages and traffic increased, making the driving more and more complicated. However, everything was proceeding normally until we (me and the car) arrived at the main thoroughfare in Moscow where heavy traffic was going in all directions. The horses, not being accustomed to automobiles, were frightened and unruly, and with an unlucky turn of my car, I hit a horse buggy. This caused a complete breakdown of the traffic. Except for a slight dent in the fender, the car was not damaged. Fortunately, neither the driver with whom I collided nor the horse was hurt; the main damage was only a broken shaft of the buggy. The driver was quite frightened and apologetic for not being able to avoid the collision which of course was not his fault. I offered him twenty-five rubles (at that time quite a large sum of money) which I felt amply covered the damage incurred.
At this moment a police lieutenant arrived. He immediately took my side in the affair. Instead of accusing me, he began upbraiding the poor horse driver for not looking where he was going and colliding with a machine which was "blind." He addressed me as "your excellency," gently lifted the money from the horse driver’s hand giving it back to me, and assured me that he would take care of everything. Stopping the traffic, he jumped on the running board of my car, and directed me out to the side street. The poor coachman did not get very much out of that transaction. When I arrived safely home, I was acclaimed by the family as a hero. Several years later, during the first World War, partly as a result of this experience, I was appointed as an "Officer in Charge" of training military chauffeurs. (p. 18)